Sometimes the bloopers are better than the stuff you plan. This was supposed to be our Christmas morning family portrait with the cats. Things were going good and everyone was in place as the camera timer wound down, and then... well, one cat bolted and the other two followed, much to our shock and amusement. Photo by Glenn.

Christmas with bells on

December 29, 2017: It's the night after Christmas as we sit down to write, and the creatures are stirring, looking for a fight. That would be our two little kitties, Phoenix and Phyre, who are no longer little and forever on the prowl in search of a way to tackle one another. It's what cats do, especially at night, and all the more reason we feared for our holiday decorations this year.

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

Glenn has been hard at work these past few months writing the Great American Novel. Many nights he can be found composing prose on his Chromebook in our bedroom, one or more cats curled at his feet. Photo by Roni.

Roni adds nonbreakable ornaments to the Christmas tree as we decorate the living room the weekend after Thanksgiving. With two kittens in the house there was extra attention paid to making our displays as cat-proof as possible. Photo by Glenn.

One thing the cats won't get into is the ornaments suspended from our living room ceiling. Our collection continues to grow. Photo by Glenn.

The Peanuts gang appears to be curious about the big box that showed up on our doorstep following Cyber Monday. They'll just have to wait until Christmas like the rest of us. Photo by Glenn.

With new neighbors set to arrive it felt like the right time to properly repair the broken panel on the fence between our two yards. The previous property owner did a shoddy job, and their repair broke. This panel is now fixed, although the entire fence is in serious need of repair. Photo by Glenn.

We visited Sacramento on Dec. 2 to check out the Global Winter Wonderland at Cal Expo. The dozens of lighted displays represented most of the world's regions and major attractions. Photo by Glenn.

A closeup of one of the light sculptures at Global Winter Wonderland reveals the intricate details that went into each creation. This was one of the characters at the Italy exhibit. Photo by Glenn.

Ben checks out one of the booths at Global Winter Wonderland with his uncle Tom and cousin Shannon. The show had many of the food, games and commercial booths you might typically find at a county fair. Photo by Glenn.

Roni waits with Glenn's sister Jenny as the kids check out the commercial vendors. The weather was nice, but a bit on the cool side.
Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his cousin Allen show off the prizes they won at the balloon toss during the Global Winter Wonderland event. Allen is pretty good with those darts, we hear. Photo by Glenn.

Ben tries out his first deep-fried Twinkie at the Global Winter Wonderland event. We came to see the Christmas lights but spent a long time in the carnival midway. Photo by Roni.

When we did eventually get past the carnival games there were lots of light displays to check out. Roni poses with the Santas outside the China exhibit. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is in his element at the Japan exhibit. This is almost as good as being at an anime convention. Well, almost. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn strikes the pose in front of the fortune cat at the Japan exhibit during Global Winter Wonderland. The cat's arm actually moves. This is becoming Glenn's favorite symbol, seeing as he could use some good fortune these days. Photo by Roni.

Holland is known for its flower fields, and those are recreated in lights at the Global Winter Wonderland. Rotating lights on the blades of the windmills simulate their spinning motion. Photo by Glenn.

We're nearing the end of our visit to Global Winter Wonderland. The entrance arch now becomes the exit, and it's much prettier at night with the lights in the trees fully visible. Photo by Glenn.

Time for one more portrait before we leave. Ben and Roni are both ready to return to the warmth of the car. We've still got a long drive home. Photo by Glenn.

One of our autumn wind storms brought every leaf in the neighborhood to our front yard, so Glenn makes use of our leafblower to vacuum the debris off our lawn. Sadly, the lawn was again covered with leaves a few days later when another storm blew through. Photo by Roni.

Our front yard electrical plugs still aren't working, so Roni purchased some solar powered mini lights to get us in the festive spirit. The neighbors across the street put us to shame with their display, but bet our energy bill is cheaper. Photo by Glenn.

It's the wee hours of Christmas morning and all the presents have been placed under the tree. That is, all the presents that were delivered in the mail in time. We had several gifts that never made it to us. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn holds up this year's edition of the Christmas bread as we prepare for our breakfast. As usual, our table was loaded up with more food than we could handle prior to unwrapping gifts. Photo by Roni.

Here's a closer look at the Christmas bread, which Glenn said came out more bready than usual. It was also the first year using a new bottle of cardamom, which seems to have altered the flavor slightly. On his subjective 1-10 scale, he gave it a 6 for preparation, an 8 for presentation, and a 7 for flavor. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the official version of the family Christmas portrait, sans cats. We really did try to get the kitties in the picture, but they weren't in the mood to cooperate. Photo by Glenn.

"So many presents. Which one should I open first?" Actually, Katy did find one that had her name on it. All the cats got collars for Christmas, as well as new cat toys. Photo by Glenn.

Roni displays one of her gifts. Calendars are always a tradition of our Christmas gift exchange, and the Peanuts are perfect for this fan. Lucy appears to be in agreement. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn's never seen Hamilton, but now he'll get to wear the spoof of the hit musical in style with his "Catmilton" T-shirt. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is very happy with his holiday Pikachu. It's funny to think that Pokémon has been a part of our family Christmases almost as long as Ben has. Photo by Glenn.

And speaking of Pikachu, Roni spent a long time drawing this one on a stone to give to Ben as a Christmas gift. She has really been getting into rock painting as a hobby, and this was one of several she created for gifts. Ben really loved that she went to the effort to draw it for him. Photo by Glenn.

The wait pays off for Charlie Brown, who finally gets to see what was in that big box near the fireplace for the past month. Sorry, Charlie, it's Glenn's new iMac. Photo by Glenn.

Roni made gifts for several people this year, including our niece Shannon. A mason jar filled with mini lights delivers a simple message: believe. Photo by Roni.

Glenn's dad thought he'd go all-in on "The Works" burger during our post-Christmas family gathering at the Squeeze Burger (formerly Squeeze Inn) in Tracy. The burgers here are pretty filling, and so it was that there was plenty of this one to take home for another meal or two. Photo by Glenn.

We had our family gift exchange outside the restaurant. Fortunately things were pretty quiet in the plaza around the fountain the day after Christmas, so we had room to spread out. Photo by Glenn.

Exploding kittens? Apparently there is a game for such things, and now Ben has a copy of it. Jenny and Shannon stand ready to hand out the next gift. Photo by Glenn.

Our family Christmas gathering ends as most of them do, with a group photo. Thanks to the veterinary clinic for adding snowflakes to its window. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Photo by Glenn.

Our Hobby Lobby tree went up for its third season of service the weekend after Thanksgiving, along with the Peanuts cutouts and doghouse that Glenn constructed a couple of years ago. This being the first Christmas for the kittens, we had no illusions that the decorations would remain unmolested, so Roni made a conscious decision to go light on the ornaments. She decided to stick to ribbons and plastic ornaments covered in blue and silver glitter, steering clear of the glass balls we’ve often included. Glenn also strung up the larger ornaments we like to hang from the living room ceiling, which resemble planets floating up in space. We just kept it simple and watched to see what would happen.

We didn’t have long to wait before there were cats in the Christmas tree and we were heading over every few minutes to remove one or the other of them. At first they would jump down at the sound of our voices, but as they became bolder and more stubborn about leaving we had to resort to tougher measures. Bring on the Christmas pig! It’s one of those novelty items we picked up a few years ago — a pink pig dressed in a Santa suit that waddles across the floor grunting to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” Best of all is when you pick it up by the tail, it squeals. We discovered that the squealing works as a deterrent to tree-scaling felines. At least ours. Phoenix took the hint really fast. The first time he heard the pig squeal, he bolted out of the Christmas tree and ran to the safety of the bedroom. He only tested us a few times. Now all Roni has to tell him is, “Here comes the pig!” and he is quickly down from the branches.

Phyre is a bit less intimidated by the pig. And unfortunately he weighs more than his brother. Phy also tends to be the instigator of the two, so he will often lure Phe to the forbidden zone among the decorations. Sometimes we can’t actually see him in the tree, but we know he is there by the shaking of the branches and the tumbling of ornaments to the carpet. He has probably done the most damage to our holiday decor this year, tromping through our fake snow drifts and launching himself onto the roof of Snoopy’s doghouse. It was so bad that we designated some time on Christmas Eve just to repairing the display so it didn’t resemble a war zone on Christmas morning.

Until now, Katy had been the only one of the cats with a collar and bell. That put her at a disadvantage with the little ones, because they could always hear her coming, but she couldn’t hear them sneaking up on her for an attack, and that didn’t make her very happy. She has spent much of her time these past few months trying to find places where they can’t bother her, although she can give as good as she gets when she wants to. As part of our annual tradition of bestowing gifts upon our pets at Christmas, this year Roni decided to get the kittens their own collars and bells along with ID tags just in case they get lost outside. Phyre took to his right away, but Phoenix didn’t seem to know what to make of the collar he received along with the tag that reads, “Hello, my name is Phoenix.” He has been observed rubbing his head on the floor and against the furniture in a half-hearted attempt to remove the collar. He likely could if he wanted to, but for now he is tolerating it. Barely. Considering that he has bolted out the front door several times when the opportunity has presented itself, we are better off if he keeps the collar on.

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HRISTMAS, AS IT always seems to, came in a hurry. We thought now that Glenn isn’t working there would be more time for decorating and shopping and baking and all the traditions we seem to love yet never have enough time to engage in. We were wrong. In many ways we felt busier than before, and when all of us came down with colds days before the holiday, that just compounded the stress of last-minute preparations.

Ben brought home the whatever-it-was from work about a week before Christmas, then Glenn got it a couple of days later. Roni, unfortunately, managed to last until almost Christmas Eve before she too succumbed. She was the only one of the three of us who spent the holiday blowing her nose. But fortunately this seems to be a light cold and we are all mended or mostly on the mend as the new year approaches.

The same cannot be said for some of our Christmas gifts that were missing in action before the holiday. It seems to have been an especially bad year for Amazon, as several of the items we wished to give to others were out of stock moments after we placed them in our electronic carts, and two of the packages Glenn ordered for Roni, about a week apart, just never showed up. One of them, a new KitchenAid mixer that Roni had high on her wish list, is still somewhere in transit, although whether we’ll actually receive it by the time you read this seems unlikely. We improvised on Christmas morning as best we could. At least she received the sausage maker and pasta attachment that goes with the mixer, assuming it does eventually arrive.

Ben had lots of things on his wish list, but few that stood out as being a must-have item. Now that he is working regularly and bringing in his own money, things like video games and anime books and vinyl figures of his favorite characters usually find their way into his bedroom without our help. So we had to get creative. We wound up purchasing a new graphics tablet for him that has a built in video screen and electronic pen that should make it easier for him to draw his artwork. It wasn’t something he expected, but he seems to like it so far.

As for Glenn, he finally got the new iMac he had been wanting — and needing, since the existing six-and-a-half-year-old model is nearing its demise. There was a decent sale on Cyber Monday, so we ordered the mid-line iMac 27-inch model from B&H Photo. It arrived Dec. 1, and Roni fully expected him to set it up that day. But Glenn wanted to hold out until Christmas, and he managed to do so despite the almost daily crashes of his old computer. As soon as this newsletter is to bed, he’ll start the migration process for his old files to the new machine.

Overall our Christmas turned out just fine. We overspent as usual, despite our efforts to conserve resources. We didn’t do as much baking as in years past, mainly because Roni has been busy with work and we’re all trying not to blow our diets between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Good luck to that. Roni still prepared cookie plates for us and the family, and Glenn did his usual job of making the Christmas bread that we all admired and hardly anyone ate on Christmas morning. We didn’t do much decorating in the front yard because our outdoor power is still non functional after more than a year — any day now Glenn says he will fix it. Roni improvised as best she could, purchasing three sets of solar powered mini lights as an experiment. She ran them around the plum tree and the island next to the driveway, where they worked reasonably well.

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NYTHING OUR OWN outdoor light display lacked we more than made up for with our Dec. 2 trip to Sacramento to enjoy the Global Winter Wonderland event at Cal Expo. Roni originally stumbled across the event listing on Facebook and thought it looked like fun. Then she thought it might be a great outing for the entire family, so shortly we were inviting Glenn’s parents and siblings and their families to join in. Coordinating a date we could all go was a challenge, as usual, so the Dec. 2 date was selected by mutual agreement.

We all showed up at Cal Expo about 4:30 p.m. and had only a very short wait before the gates opened. Inside was an incredible display of lighted structures representing most of the major countries of the world — France with its Eiffel Tower, England with Buckingham Palace, America with the Statue of Liberty. There were numerous booths where vendors peddled commercial products or food, and of course a huge carnival midway with rides and games.

We actually spent most of our time on the midway, which shouldn’t be too surprising given that we had Ben, Shannon and Allen with us. The kids all tried their luck at the balloon dart toss booth, which Allen seems to be pretty good at. Sean tested his strength at the ring-the-bell attraction, but it required a lot more muscle than he was able to muster. Glenn and Roni preferred hanging back with cameras to capture all the entertaining moments, of which there were many.

We eventually did get away from the carnival and toured the light attractions we had paid to see. The Egypt display included a giant Sphinx, and there was a jungle safari labyrinth people had to wander through in which it was easy to become lost in the dead ends. We also liked the Japan exhibit with its lighted Mount Fuji, Geisha girls and life-sized fortune cats with waving paws. We stayed at the show for about five hours before calling it a night. We might have to make this an annual tradition.

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NOTHER THING THAT is rapidly becoming an annual tradition — or at least a biannual one — is our post-Christmas gathering with Glenn’s family. For the past few years we have been alternating between spending Christmas together or Thanksgiving. This was our year to do the turkey thing, so for the exchanging of Christmas presents we all decided to get together at a restaurant about midway between all of our locations. Tracy seems to be a convenient spot, so for the second time in three years we selected a restaurant there to celebrate.

This year’s destination was the Squeeze Burger — formerly the Squeeze Inn — where we had been a couple of times this year and liked the atmosphere. The restaurant is pretty roomy and not usually too busy, so we were able to secure a couple of large tables for our entire group. Everyone was present, with the exception of Sean’s girlfriend Denise, who was home fighting a cold. The rest of us enjoyed lunch, then went out to the courtyard of the strip mall next door to the restaurant so we could do our gift exchange. Roni’s cookie trays with plates made from melted peppermints were a definite hit. We dubbed this the Year of the Coffee Mug because everyone seemed to be giving or receiving mugs. Roni, Glenn and Ben each got one during our own gift exchange. Glenn’s dad got two from us that we made him at Costco.

One of the things Glenn’s folks got us was an Amazon Show, which is essentially an Echo device with a video screen. You can use it to make video calls to people, among other things, watch news or weather, search for recipes and watch streaming content. We are trying to set it up to control our lights and plugs, but for a small house like ours that is probably more effort than the benefit it will provide us.

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E FINALLY HAVE new neighbors, as we predicted in last month’s newsletter. They moved in a couple of weeks before Christmas, but we haven’t really met them yet. So far it appears that it is a middle-aged couple with their boat and a big dog. Although they have kids/grandkids over this week, we aren’t sure that the kids actually live there. Guess we’ll find out. So far we haven’t seen much of them.

We’ll see even less of them, hopefully, since Glenn finally repaired the broken lattice panel on the fence separating our two yards. That panel was damaged a couple of years ago when the neighbor’s pine tree toppled onto it, and the landlord did a very poor repair that neither matched the rest of the fence nor lasted long. We thought the flippers who bought the place in August might try to fix it, but they didn’t. So once we saw the pending sale on the house this month, we went out to Lowe’s and bought the replacement lattice for about $42. Glenn just cut off the damaged piece and screwed the new top to the existing (broken) posts. Almost good as new. He also fixed our side gate while he had the tools out, so for now our yard is properly secured again — from people and animals, if not wind.

The blustery storms that are typical of this time of year already have made their appearance, and twice we’ve had windy days that made a mess out of the front yard. We live on a cul de sac, so every leaf, every piece of trash, eventually finds its way to us. We used our leaf blower to clear the debris from the first storm, and that was good for about a week until the next storm blew it all back in. Our lawn is now covered, there’s trash in the oleanders, and our front porch is again littered with dirt and leaves. Ah, home sweet home.

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E'RE ABOUT READY to wrap up this final newsletter of 2017 and get it posted. But before we go, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on what an adventure this year has been, both good and bad. Some years are just like that — pivotal moments in your life that you simply can’t ignore. You know you have been permanently changed in some way, but the magnitude of that change isn’t immediately evident until some point down the road. We’ll head into the new year with great optimism, and curiosity for how this will all play out.

We knew about this time last year that we were in for some huge changes in our lives, especially on the job front. Roni was overloaded with her work on the Delta Science Center, and Glenn was largely dissatisfied and disillusioned with his work as an editor at the newspaper. Roni left her role at the DSC in January, and Glenn’s job at the paper left him in June. The uncertainty that naturally arises with any loss of steady income took a back seat to the loss of Glenn’s grandmother on July 4, at the age of 102. There is no way to describe in words the impact her passing has had on everyone. As much as we knew it was not possible, we had all been lulled into the false belief that she would be with us forever, such was her steady presence in our lives. We were so blessed to have been part of her final birthday celebration, and to have had one last opportunity to see her in the hospital before she passed away.

While there was much sadness about Grandmother, there was a silver lining to the timing. Glenn received a significant inheritance in September that has removed much of the worry about our future plans. Although it does not answer the ever present question of “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” it has afforded us time to think and explore our options and decompress from the stresses of unhappy or unfulfilling careers. Glenn returned to his writing in July and spent several months working on the manuscript of a novel he hopes to complete sometime next year. (Wink, wink.) Roni, meanwhile, has found herself busier than ever working as a contractor for the sanitary district, where her activities have resulted in several major awards and the hope of continued business in the year ahead. Ben has not been so satisfied with his job at the grocery store, of late, but he is getting close to three years of employment there and that is definitely something worth celebrating.

We got to spend more time with family in the latter half of the year than we have in several recent years combined. In addition to the aforementioned Christmas party, Global Winter Wonderland exhibit and Grandmother’s birthday, we also spent a week at Sea Ranch in a house Glenn’s folks rented and shared with everyone. There was an enjoyable Thanksgiving feast in Hayward, and of course our bittersweet farewell to Grandmother and Grandpa when we gathered for their memorial service in September and then scattered their ashes at Sutter Creek. There was also a visit to see Glenn’s Grandma Sorenson in Hemet on the eve of her 99th birthday, and we had the pleasure of meeting Sean’s new girlfriend, Denise, and her big dog Zara. We had opportunities to get together with Roni’s family, as well. First at the wedding of our nephew Robert to his wife Rebecca at Calaveras Big Trees, then a few days later at the new Antioch home of Roni’s sister Jacki and husband Kevin.

Travel was definitely on our highlight reel for 2017, with the wedding trip to Calaveras in June, the Sea Ranch vacation in July, and then our first cruise in September to see Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. We visited Apple Hill for the first time in September, then returned two months later. There was our long drive to Long Beach prior to our cruise, then the return trip that took us to visits with our grandma and an overnight stay in Ventura. When we weren’t hitting the road, we were hitting the front yard to finish up our long-in-progress landscaping project, which we completed in October. Ben finally passed his driving permit test and is well on the way to finally earning his license sometime next year.

And of course we would be remiss not to mention the addition of two furry bundles of joy and mischief in the guise of Phoenix and Phyre, the two orange tabby kittens who came home to live with us on April 30. They can never replace our Eevee, who was lost to us in November 2016, but they keep us occupied with their antics, as does Katy, our 7-year-old who has come to tolerate them and occasionally romp and play with them.

As 2017 draws to a close there are some ideas in the works for early next year that we hope to share when things become clearer. Suffice it to say that we are very excited about 2018 and whatever new adventures lie in store. We hope your new year is equally filled with promise and prosperity.


Glenn, Roni and Ben